Das Experiment Movie Review

Talk about a riveting debut. German first time feature filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel storms out of the gate with his intense and intelligent thriller Das Experiment. Based on Mario Giordano's novel Black Box (and I'd have to assume also inspired by the real life Stanford Prison Experiment), Das Experiment is a harrowing journey into the blurry world that lies between fantasy and reality. Hirschbiegel paces the film masterfully, proceeding at a high-energy clip throughout, yet knowing exactly the right moments to take his foot off of the gas pedal. Add to the mix a fantastic lead performance by Moritz Bleibtreu (Run Lola Run), and what results is a film I can confidently label a "must see."

Bleibtreu stars as Tarek, an ex-journalist turned cab driver who comes across a newspaper ad seeking participants to partake in a University sponsored psychological experiment. The experiment is to be set in a mock prison environment, and Tarek is immediately intrigued by the possibility of writing a story based on his experience as a research subject. Tarek is able to sell the idea to his former editor, and he then applies and is accepted as one of the test cases.

The night before Tarek's to leave for the two-week assignment, he is involved in a car accident with a woman named Dora (Maren Eggert). The two lonely souls spend the night together, and Dora urges Tarek to reconsider his involvement in the experiment. Tarek refuses to heed the warning and the next day he joins the experiment's other volunteers, who are immediately divided into two groups: guards and prisoners. Tarek transforms into Prisoner #77, and while the two sides at first simply go through the motions, the situation quickly begins to deteriorate. Driven to obtain the most sensational story possible, Tarek makes every effort to provoke the guards and draws the wrath of their initially quiet leader, Berus (Justus Von Dohnanyi). The confrontations become more frequent and heated, and soon the experiment spins completely out of the control of the scientists conducting it, as the guards debase the prisoners with various forms of brutality.

The dynamic between the guards and the prisoners couldn't be more explosive. The psychology of each side is explored, and while the guards certainly become the film's villains, you draw an understanding as to why these ordinary people degenerate into nearly inhuman monsters. The vicious humiliation to which the prisoners are subjected is horrifying and makes for an absolutely draining viewing experience. As for social commentary about Germany's history -- there's nothing overt or heavy-handed, so viewers can decide for themselves whether or not there's an analogy to be taken from the film.

Tarek's love interest Dora becomes the center of a parallel story to the main action. The film intersperses flashbacks of Dora and Tarek's night together and scenes of the woman attempting to find Tarek at the experiment. The juxtaposition of this story feels slightly awkward, but it is resolved nicely and does provide moments to catch your breath throughout. Some of the characters' actions and motivations occasionally come into question, but Hirschbiegel is so adept at accelerating the action at just the right time, that any implausible moments are easily dismissed. In addition to Bleibtreu, Justus Von Dohnanyi is captivating as the twisted Berus and Oliver Stokowski garners immense sympathy as Schutte, a simple man and fellow prisoner in way over his head.

Das Experiment is the best thriller I've seen in recent memory -- equally exciting and disturbing. If you have a low tolerance for subtitles and only plan to see one foreign language film this year, look no further. It's an exhilarating and powerful work you won't soon forget.

Aka The Experiment.

No talking during the movie.

Comments

Das Experiment Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: R, 2002

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